NYPD Blue: No Silver Spoons Here

by Erik Arneson

Sept. 1993 – present

  • Dennis Franz as Det. Andy Sipowicz
  • Rick Schroder as Det. Danny Sorenson
  • Jimmy Smits as Det. Bobby Simone
  • David Caruso as Det. John Kelley
  • Kim Delaney as Det. Diane Russell
  • Sharon Lawrence as ADA Sylvia Costas

NYPD Blue first grabbed headlines for breaking new ground: it pushed the envelop for prime-time network dramas in terms of both nudity and language. Five years since its first debut, the show is a regular winner when Emmy night rolls around and a solid ratings performer for ABC. Dennis Franz, an Emmy winner and veteran of numerous cop shows including “Hill Street Blues,” is the steadiest and most visible cast member. As recovering alcoholic Det. Andy Sipowicz, Franz has won two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and been nominated for two others. Sipowicz has had three partners over the course of the show’s run, David Caruso’s Det. John Kelley, Jimmy Smits’ Det. Bobby Simone, and most recently former child star Rick Schroder’s character, scheduled to debut on Oct. 20, 1998. Although some mocked the decision by producer Stephen Bochco and executive producer David Milch to hire Schroder (Mr. Showbiz called it “the worst idea since New Coke.”), others pointed to the former child star’s roles in projects like the 1989 mini-series “Lonesome Dove” as evidence that he could pull it off.

Caruso’s tumultuous stint on “Blue” lasted little more than one season before the would-be big-screen star left to pursue movie projects. He received some critical praise for his first film, “Kiss of Death,” but nonetheless soon found himself asking Bochco to let him out of an agreement not to do another television show until his original “Blue” contract expired. The resulting CBS drama, “Michael Hayes,” was canceled after one season.

Smits, a veteran of “L.A. Law” and also an Emmy winner, enjoyed a lengthier run as Franz’s on-screen partner. According to one report, he had been the first choice to play opposite Franz anyway. His addition to the cast gave the show’s ratings a noticeable boost. As assistant District Attorney Sylvia Costas, Sharon Lawrence plays Sipowicz’s love interest. She works to keep him sober while putting her confidence to good use as a prosecutor. Costas was raped in law school, causing her to be especially sensitive to sexual assault cases. Although Lawrence’s role diminished to some degree when she was offered her own NBC sitcom, “Fired Up,” she made time for “Blue” whenever her character was needed.

Former teen model and soap star Kim Delaney — another Emmy winner — originally was cast for a four-episode guest spot. Her presence and chemistry with Smits were such that the producers made the role a regular character.

Physical chemistry between actors and actresses on “Blue” is crucial to the show’s quality, because unlike contemporaries “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Law & Order,” “NYPD Blue” delights in detailing the personal lives of its characters. Sipowicz fell off the wagon near the end of season three when his adult son was killed trying to prevent a robbery. The finale of season five, “Honeymoon at Viagra Falls,” tackles Andy’s battle with impotence.

Simone’s troubled relationship with Russell (another recovering alcoholic) affected more than one case before they were married at the end of season five. Russell also is dealing with the psychological repercussions of her mother killing her abusive father.

In fact, Caruso’s departure from the show was facilitated by a twisted relationship. Milch, whose autobiography blames Caruso for a couple of his heart attacks, may have taken some pleasure in having Caruso’s character forced to quit the force in disgrace after an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation uncovers highly-suspect behavior. Despite the focus on personal lives, “NYPD Blue” is at its core a down-and-dirty cop show, and there are plenty of crimes to solve in the Big Apple. The first four episodes, which featured David Schwimmer of “Friends” in a key role, revolved around a mugging and the victim’s subsequent vigilantism.

In addition to Schwimmer, notable guest stars include Kyle Secor (“Homicide: Life on the Streets”), Vanessa Williams (“Chicago Hope”), Jenna Elfman (“Dharma and Greg”), Dan Castellaneta (“The Simpsons”), K Callan (“Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”) and Anthony Michael Hall (“The Breakfast Club”).

Other cases handled by the detectives of the fictional 15th Precinct included a drive-by shooting that killed an infant, the slaying of five Ecuadorians, numerous sexual assaults and countless other murders. Dozens of episodes include Mafia-related crimes. To be sure, the detectives investigate some unconventional cases. In one episode, a man claiming to be a werewolf demanded to be locked in a cell before he killed someone. On another occasion, Sipowicz and Det. Greg Medavoy pose as Hasidic Jews to recover a stolen Torah. One murder victim was killed with a typewriter. In yet another episode, a bus was hijacked and subsequently wrecked by a drunk cop with medical problems. And these detectives are hardly superheros. In one case, the night watch fell asleep during a stakeout, ruining a chance to nab the prime suspect in a murder-arson. Sipowicz and the others tend to take significant liberties when interviewing suspects and have been known to bend a rule or two on the street, as well.

During its run, “NYPD Blue” has won numerous awards. Among the most notable: the 1994 “Best TV Series – Drama” Golden Globe Award, the 1994 “Best Quality Drama Series” Q Award from Viewers for Quality Television, the 1995 Emmy Award for “Outstanding Drama Series,” and the 1995 “Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series” Screen Actors Guild Award. Actors on the show have been nominated for more than a dozen Emmys.

If Schroder works out in his new role, chances are the detectives of the 15th Precinct will be investigating cases — routine and bizarre — and winning awards for years to come.


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